On one trip to the Islands I went somewhere for a show and a female employee in the entrance area was handing out shell leis to people as they came in. An old Auntie near me commented, “She did that wrong! You don’t hand the lei for the person to put on themselves! You put it on them as a manifestation of respect. That’s what Aloha is… respect!”
Respect seems to be short in abundance nowadays! When I was little I was taught… in no uncertain terms… to hold the door for others, to say “please” and “thank you”, to allow others to go first. I see now that such social niceties not only expressed respect for others but at the same time inculcated the concept of respect within myself!
As we age… socially, psychologically, spiritually… the normal route of growth is letting go of the selfishness and self-centeredness of childhood. Slowly one becomes more respectful of others and of all creation, and one grows into kuleana, a sense of responsibility, which can be expressed as “If not me, then who? If not here, then where? If not now, then when?“
And when we reach old age we become kupuna, the grandparents of the culture. The Kupuna are Hawaiʻi’s memory of itself. The secret that they have to teach us is that taking on kuleana is actually liberating! I ran into that same old Auntie later in the evening. She stopped me and asked if I liked the lei, and then with a sweetly naughty look on her face said, “I hope that you won’t think me vulgar but now you can go home and tell people that you got lei’d in Hawaiʻi.” Priceless!